Sky+HD Movie Experience - Sky+HD Movie Experience

John Archer

By John Archer



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As evidence of how far in the other direction Sky's HD film broadcasts can go, probably the most depressing example is James Cameron's Titanic. Every time I've checked out this film on Sky's HD channels, it has invariably looked so soft it's hardly any sharper than standard definition. What's worse, any underwater shots are practically ruined by excessive amounts of MPEG encoding noise, taking the form of either large picture blocks, or smearing. This is symptomatic of a film that's either not being encoded into HD with a high enough bit-rate, or of a film that's not being broadcast with a high enough bit-rate.

Therein lies the difficulty of knowing for sure where the cause of Sky HD's inconsistency lies. For without a Blu-ray version of Titanic to compare with, we just can't tell for absolute certain if the fault with the Titanic broadcasts lies with Sky not giving it enough bandwidth, or Fox for doing a shoddy HD master that Sky's had to send out. Though the fact that a few of the other films I've viewed for this test have looked a bit soft too suggests that Sky's variable bit-rate system probably isn't completely blameless.

While I might not have been able to do a straight Blu-ray/Sky HD head-to-head of Titanic, there are other films on Sky right now that do have Blu-ray versions available for comparison. Including Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

One thing that needs to be pointed out before going any further with a comparison is that the Blu-ray version of the film is presented in 1080p/24, while the Sky broadcast is 1080i. And actually, this fact is probably responsible for the biggest advantage the Blu-ray has over the Sky broadcast, for sharp edges on the broadcast, especially around facial contours, look noticeably more jagged than they do on the Blu-ray. You'll only see this in any obvious sort of way if you watch on a really big screen, or else sit very close to the picture, but on smaller screens it still results in a slightly fuzzy look to edges at times.

The other key picture advantage the Blu-ray of Forgetting Sarah Marshall has over the Sky broadcast is that it suffers marginally less with MPEG decoding artefacts. Which is to say that there are practically none on the Blu-ray, but a very small amount on the Sky broadcast.

For instance, near the start of the film, where Peter gets a call from Sarah saying she's going to be back earlier than expected, the lamp in the background and the skin on Peter's forehead both look marginally more 'alive' with noise on the broadcast than they do on the Blu-ray. To be clear on this, though, the difference in noise levels is less pronounced than that noted with Xbox 360 downloads during Blu-ray comparisons. At a push I'd also say that the Sky broadcast looks fractionally softer than the Blu-ray, though this really is a marginal thing.


April 23, 2009, 5:34 am

I absolutely love sky HD, the picture quality is great, movies and football look its a doddle to use!

But...i cannot get my sound in sync, am outputting optical via toslink to a bose entertainment system for 5.1 but it always seems out. I have tried messing via the manual delay setting but cannot get it right :( any suggestions?


April 23, 2009, 5:40 am

Thanks for the interesting article. It seems that Sky+ HD's the only choice if you want a good variety of HD material, especially linear TV channels. The monthly cost has always put me off though - 㿣 (though less without Sky Movies) - ouch!

Anyway, looking forward to the Virgin V+ piece. Don't know what you'll make of the one linear HD channel (BBC HD) and limited Video on Demand, in HD.


April 23, 2009, 1:25 pm

Just a quickie but I think your costs are slightly off on the first page. Looking through the Sky web site the cheapest I can get a movie package is 㿍.50 for one entertainment pack and the movie channels, plus a tenner for the HD subscription. Still shockingly expensive but thought it worth mentioning.


April 23, 2009, 1:30 pm

@Dev - I've run into this problem with playing DVDs back through my X360 into my amp and Samsung LCD TV. My A/V receiver is a bit too old to be able to build a long enough delay in to make the sound in sync with the picture processing. This seems to be the cheapest way to remove the problem and there are more sophisticated versions available that can be adjusted via IR in sub 1ms increments. I thought that the manual delay adjust on the HD+ boxes was supposed to eliminate this problem?

Niraj Goyal

April 23, 2009, 1:59 pm

You have the blu ray of Forgetting Sarah Marshall? Why?


April 23, 2009, 4:44 pm

@Dev - I think this sounds like a common problem where the video processing of your TV delays the display of video by a few milliseconds, but its enough to produce noticeable lip sync errors. I had this problem with my AV system.

If you turn the sound up on you TV speakers as well as the Bose system you should notice a slight 'echo' effect caused by the delay. If you hit the 'Services' button on the remote, there should be an audio setup menu with an 'Optical output delay' option. Adjust this until the sound from your TV and the sound from your AV unit are in sync, then turn off the TV speakers and enjoy your Bose goodness.


April 23, 2009, 5:07 pm

Missing from this piece but referenced by Dev is that not only the films are part of the top tier subs package but also the football with three HD Sports channels, though some events on them are only transmitted in SD on occassion, like snooker, (sods).

Another aspect though not neccessarily HD specific (save for the fact that HD revived my interest in TV viewing) is that the subs are easily regained on money you no longer spend in pubs and eateries, though I am finding that my pub abstinence is waning, perhaps due to more flexible ash tray policies by publicans these days :-)


April 23, 2009, 5:58 pm

I suppose if your a massive Movie fan who watches movies nearly every day, then SKY's not a bad deal. For me though, I'm more of a max of 3 movies a month, and for 㿞 you could get higher quality keep forever blueray.

Rant Mode -> I know Sky don't have adverts between movies etc, but the fact you still get adverts on SKY for a subscription service is bonkers.

On a side note, I'm finding whats on TV less interesting everyday, very tempted to ditch my TV licence, de-tune my TV, and just watch BlueRay, catch up on news and other stuff on the NET, here comes another rant, if your a SKY user you still have to pay for a TV lic, how wrong is that.


April 23, 2009, 6:24 pm

@Keith - You still get all BBC channels for 'free' from Sky, but you can only legally view those if you've paid your TV licence. It's not as if you're paying twice.


April 23, 2009, 6:34 pm

@Chris, I think I didn't explain what I meant properly, yes I know you still get BBC channels etc, but by using SKY your also forced to pay for a TV license, but say for example I only watched BlueRay movies and browsed the internet on my TV I wouldn't need a TV license. IOW: Say I had sky and only watched Sky+ and none BBC channels I still have to pay for a LIC, I just find the unique way the BBC is funded criminal.


April 23, 2009, 6:54 pm

@Keith - Very true. Not really Sky's fault though, just the larger issue of how the BBC is funded. You'd have the same problem if you bought a Tesco Value TV for 㿉.99.

I do agree though - the way the BBC is funded is completely out of step with modern digital TV packages. It needs to be reviewed.


April 24, 2009, 2:09 am


Thanks very much, i will try it next time i'm home from uni :)


April 25, 2009, 7:26 pm

@Keith - not sure you 100% right on the not needing a licence just cos you've de-tuned your tv. I thought it was having equipment capable of receiving tv broadcasts that meant you had to pay, even if you steadfastly refused to ever tune in any bbc channel.

I thinking watching just blu-ray on a monitor would be ok, watching blu-ray on a tv would mean you should have a licence. (I use 'should' in a legal sense, not any sort of moral or fairness sense!)

I also suspect that watching BBC services on t'internet means that technically you should be paying a licence, but really not sure on that and the legislation may not have caught up with iPlayer yet...


April 25, 2009, 7:59 pm

Well, I was almost entirely wrong. proving to myself how bored I am, I looked this up and keith was right, not watching live tv means no license, but watching any tv broadcast means you have to cough up the license fee, even if you never use or tune in BBC. Apparently it's the broadcast bit that's important - watching recorded stuff is ok (copyright issues aside...)

As for internet, it seems the same logic applies - so if you're watching something at the same time as it's broadcast, tv license is needed.

Using iplayer to watch BBC stuff broadcast a few days ago would seem to be ok, even without a license - go figure??


April 27, 2009, 6:52 pm

@GaryRW: hehe yeah, I wondered if someone would bring that up, as you have found out it's the broadcasting part. The biggest problem I've heard on the NET with doing this, the BBC would make you out to be a criminal, and you get hounded. I'm surprised they hasn't been a court case against the BBC for this type of behavior, or maybe a EU case to get this sort of license banned.

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